Captain’s Quarters has a post about Cuba, specifically the treatment of political prisoners there. Just to remove any doubt before I start, let me quote a little of the final paragraph with approval:

We can differ on how best to improve the lot of the Cuban people and prepare for the post-Castro era, but let no one be fooled into thinking that the ruling junta is anything other than a brutal, oppressive, and inhumane regime.

What he’s talking about is this quoted material:

Four dissidents freed this week after five years in inhumane conditions in a Cuban prison have revealed the dark side of Fidel Castro’s regime.

The four – José Gabriel Ramón Castillo, Omar Pernet Hernández, Alejandro González and Pedro Pablo Álvarez – described regular beatings, humiliation and arbitrary punishment with long periods of solitary confinement in cramped cells with cement beds.

Mr Castillo, 50, a journalist who wrote articles critical of the regime, told The Sunday Telegraph: “It was terrible. It was like being in a desert in which sometimes there is no water, there is no food, you are tortured and you are abused.

“This was not torture in the textbook way with electric prods, but it was cruel and degrading. They would beat you for no reason even when you were in hospital.

“At other times they would search you for no reason, stripping you bare and humiliating you. There was one particular commander at a jail in Santa Clara who seemed to take delight in handing out beatings to the prisoners.”

If I look back on the last 8 years and find one thing that saddens me more than anything else, it might just be this: When I moved to America such barbarism would have been disgusting; now it’s only the target of the barbarism that we can legitimately rail against.

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Bottom Trawling

No, not what some of you are thinking, it’s actually a technique in commercial fishing where you drag your net across the bottom of the sea to catch bottom-dwelling fish, crustaceans etc. Treehugger have a picture of what this looks like in the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s quite amazing.

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At the top of Victoria Falls there is a little pool that you can swim in. When I say ‘at the top of the falls’ I mean literally at the top of the falls – go check out the pictures. If you’re anything like me it will make you feel sick (as well as feeling like the father in a couple of the later pictures deserves a kicking).

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Top Tip: Never show weakness to a physio – as soon as they know something hurts they’ll be at it like a dog on a bone until you sign over your house.

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Vox Day

A religious friend shares a number of links through google reader which has greatly expanded my reading, if not my mind. One recent article is a book review of sorts for ‘The Irrational Atheist’ by Vox Day, a deeply unpleasant man.

The article, unsurprisingly, is about as perceptive and well-reasoned as I would have guessed the book to be. I lack the focus of many bloggers on the standard anti-atheist arguments, so a lot of what is wrong with it passed me by, but a few things stood out.

As for the nature of the wars themselves, talk about specific: Day found 123 wars that could validly be claimed to have religion at their heart—a grand total of 6.98 percent of all wars fought.

I’m able to make wild assertions with the best of them on a blog, but if I were writing a book I’d aim for a little thoroughness, particularly in research I claim to be original. So let’s say half a day per war to establish its true origins (not nearly enough, I think, but let’s be kind). 123 is 6.98% of 1762, which comes in just under 3 years, 5 months of working weeks. Just for one fact that Vox Day worked out for himself. And all to counter an argument that even I, one of those damnable atheists, doesn’t find particularly convincing (people cause wars, not religion, though religion can be a catalyst by focussing our natural desire for ‘them’ and ‘us’)

Day sics the anthropic principle on him, which Dawkins rejects because any God capable of fine-tuning the universe so as to make possible the advent of DNA is at least as improbable as the universe in question, because he would have to be a being of unimaginable complexity. Day offers as a refutation the existence of the mathematician who calculated the “goldilocks values” (the cosmic fine-tuning that the birth of man would require) in the first place, this “despite being less complex than the sum of everyone and everything else in the universe.”

Dawkins argument is that you need to be at least as complex as the thing you create. It can descend into a debate over terms – is a mathematical formula that controls the motion of planets more or less complex than the squidgy bag of cells that formulated it? – but the basic idea is both sound and simple. To conceive of something is straightforward (an impressive trick, but entirely human), but that’s hardly comparable to actually creating what you conceived. As one example, not only have we not created a computer as intelligent as we are, we can’t even work out whether it’s theoretically possible.

Day cites the more reliable 2001 ARIS study and finds that atheists are “twice as likely to get divorced and have fewer children than any other group in the United States.”

Looking at the results of the quoted survey here, it appears that ‘NO RELIGION’, which I assume means atheists, are about average for divorce. A quick look through the list also shows that most or all of the non-Christian churches (depending on who you consider Christian) are below average, which means that Christians are above average. But we shouldn’t let facts stand in the way of a good statistic.

I could go on, but you’re probably as bored as I am by now. The point is that all of the authors Vox Day examines are open to criticism (Sam Harris’ most famous book, in particular, I found to be 99% assertion and 1% evidence at best), but inept critique’s like Day’s serve only to polarize, not to illuminate. That, of course, is the point.

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